China Change, July 2, 2019
Since we posted our last piece, Billionaires and Zhongnanhai Families — China’s Newest Breed of ‘Rights Defenders’, Ms. Huang Wan (黄婉), daughter-in-law of Chinese Communist Party’s former standing committee member and chairman of the powerful and much feared Central Political and Legal Affairs Commission Zhou Yongkang (周永康), has made more revelations. In her latest statement, she began to describe torture during her secret detention in 2014 and provided a glimpse of her trial in 2016.
Zhou Yongkang is by far the highest ranking CCP official and the only Standing Committee member to have been sentenced to life in prison for corruption. Like virtually every family that has been bulldozed by Xi Jinping’s anti-corruption campaign, Ms. Huang has kept mum about her experiences—until recently when a civil case was brought against her to prevent her, a U. S. citizen since 1998, from leaving China. She also opened up to mainstream U. S. media for the first time in this Wall Street Journal report.
In her latest conversation with lawyer Chen Jiangang (陈建刚), which postdated the WSJ report, she broached the subject of torture, a topic that the CCP often goes to extra lengths to prevent pertinent information from leaking. But by all appearances, Ms. Huang seems determined to put up a fight for her fate.
On December 1, 2013, scores of armed personnel entered Huang Wan’s house and detained her as well as everyone on site, including drivers who had worked in her household for years, without displaying any warrant or ID or stating the reasons for their actions. She could not identify whether they were policemen or some other security force.
She was then brought to a location near Nanyuan Airport (南苑机场) in southern part of Beijing where they would detain her for 10 months and 12 days.
Her lawyer at the time (not Chen Jiangang) immediately notified the U. S. Embassy in Beijing and the Embassy requested a meeting with Ms. Huang the next day. However, China did not allow consular visits until 16 days into Ms. Huang’s detention—a violation of bilateral agreement.
In the first five days of her secret detention, she was only allowed 1-2 hours of sleep per day. Despite the fact that her scheduled bedtime was from 11 pm to 7 am, interrogators repeatedly arrived right before her bedtime and questioned her until as late as 5 in the morning.
Additionally, she was kept thirsty. “In the early days of my detention, they didn’t give me water. They gave me just enough to keep me alive. I was so thirsty that all I could think every minute was water. I nearly collapsed at one point and wanted to go and drink from the tap, but the armed police personnel grabbed me from it. They tormented me like that on purpose.”
Three cameras and a sonar control device surveilled her 15 square meter room. She was watched by armed police personnel 24/7, two in each shift. When probed by lawyers, she said that these personnel were all “little girls of 18 or 19 years old, recruited from provinces.”
She was especially pained by the fact that she had no privacy whatsoever, as guards stood by her side even when she took a shower or used the toilet. “I wouldn’t believe they would treat a woman in such a despicable manner if I haven’t experienced it myself.”
“Don’t think that being an American will make any difference,” the interrogators told her. “This is China. Do you know where you are? I tell you, if we go out, dig a pit, and bury you alive, you will just be a missing person, that’s all.”
Ms. Huang went on. “One day there was a digger making noise outside. They took the opportunity to threaten me. They said, they are digging a pit outside, you’d better confess everything, or we will take you out and bury you there.”
They also threatened to hurt her daughter, then five and half years old.
For the entire length of her secret detention, she was made to sit “like a statue all day long, with the exception of bedtime: hands touching knees, no motion, no closing eyes, no looking sideways, no talking, while two guards stand, one on each side, next to me, like the character 品 (pin).’”
She said that mental torture was the hardest to endure. She was not allowed to read despite her repeated requests. The consular brought her books but her tormentors wouldn’t let her have them. “Every day I sat like that, watching the light from the window moving bit by bit. Day after day. Day after day. It’s still a nightmare to this day whenever I recall it. This is torture for anyone. At some point I began to hallucinate. One time I saw my daughter clearly in front of me and she was about to jump into a pond. Terrified, I reached out to grab her and almost fell from the chair.”
Following that incident, they allowed her to have limited reading time.
After 10 months in secret detention, Ms. Huang was taken to a detention center in Yichang, Hubei (湖北宜昌) to await her trial. It’s unclear why she was tried in that particular city. It seems that the CCP has been putting their fallen officials in the “anti-corruption” campaign in arbitrary locales and tried them in arbitrary courts.
The prosecutors were not interested in investigating charges against her, she told her lawyer. They wanted to get her to admit guilt. A prosecutor named Zhou Jun (周俊) and a police officer named Chen Yan (陈烨) came together to negotiate with her: “They said as long as I wrote a Statement of Repentance, they would not indict me; they would let me go home.”
“But it was a trap,” Ms. Huang said. They indicted her anyway, even after she wrote such a statement against her own will.
Ms. Huang said she questioned the legality of a prosecutor and a policeman working together to get her to confess. Ms. Huang might be aware before, but the three arms of Chinese judiciary all serve the Party, not the law, as her father-in-law had said in one speech after another during his tenure as the highest official overseeing law and punishment in China. As a result, human rights atrocities abound.
After she was indicted and her case moved to the court, Ms. Huang said, the judge and prosecutors had countless talks with her to extort a confession. They used her daughter as well as her 70-year-old father, both American citizens, to get what they wanted. When Huang’s father, also detained, fell very ill during detention, Huang was pressured to get her mother back from the U. S. to China. She expressly told the visiting consular to let her mother know that she should never come back to China.
The trial was a show. The prosecutors directed her to say only three sentences and rehearsed with her over and over again. More aptly, she saw that the presiding judge Liu Yilong (刘益龙), an aged man, wore makeup for the trial. “Before the trial started, he came to the small room where I was waiting to make sure I was in order for the trial. I saw that he wore pretty thick makeup – he had on foundation, he painted his brows, and he also had on blush.”
At China Change, we have translated numerous first-hand accounts of torture. Reading Ms. Huang’s account, we can’t help but be amused by how everyone is offered the same torture menu, be it poor petitioners at the bottom of the society, Zhongnanhai families, or everyone else in between.
You say all are equal before the law; we say all are equal before torture – in China.
That said, Ms. Huang is aware of worse torture and tragedies, as her earlier tweets indicate. 709 lawyers have gone through much, much worse. “To be honest,” Huang told her lawyer, “I survived probably because I’m an American citizen.”
In response to netizens’ questions, she provided further details of her personal life with Zhou Bin (周滨), the eldest son of Zhou Yongkang.
Ms. Huang has implied that she will be continuously updating Twitter, so we expect that she will be going into further details about the criminal case against her within the coming days.